Film Review: Skyfall
I should lay my cards on the table right now and say that I’m probably the least qualified person to review a James Bond film. The reason? Prior to viewing Skyfall, the only 007 flick I had ever seen was Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale. (Yes, I am ashamed of that fact.) Add to that the matter that I’m uploading this review nearly two months after Skyfall’s UK release, and I probably look downright incompetent. But better late than never, as they say, and even though I might not be the best judge of Skyfall as an entry in the Bond canon, I’d like to hope that this leaves me in a relatively positive position to judge it as a film of its own merit.
In that respect, then, Skyfall is fantastic. Forget it being endorsed as a great Bond movie: Skyfall is a great movie, full-stop. It’s as exciting as anything else I’ve seen this year, boasting a terrific cast who all put in top-notch performances, and it’s all handled with a flair and poise seldom maintained this well in a blockbuster. Sam Mendes has brought his skillset to the table with assurance, and the result is a film which ticks just about every box for punters and die-hards alike. I can’t pretend that a lot of the references to the Bond mythology went straight over my head, but when they did arrive, nothing felt forced. To me, it all felt seamless and daisy-fresh (and I even got to revel in some of the coolest nods – hello, Aston Martin DB5! – by sitting next to the biggest Bond fan of them all, Mr Andrew Gaudion).
I’ll keep exposition brief, given that everyone reading this already knows the story. Following an attempt to retrieve a stolen hard-drive in Istanbul, Bond is presumed dead. The hard-drive itself contains explosive information regarding undercover MI6 agents stationed at all corners of the globe, which puts Judi Dench’s M in a sticky situation indeed. When Bond returns for duty, he’s not at his physical – or emotional – peak, yet he must fight his demons to take down Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), the cyberterrorist responsible for the theft of the hard-drive, who seems to have a personal score to settle with M herself.
The whole is executed with panache and tension, building towards a climax which is boldly, devastatingly personal. Bardem threatens to steal the show, portraying a villain so oily and unsettling that it almost feels as if they’re not just Bond’s thighs he’s caressing. His Silva is completely riveting: a nemesis both dangerous and directly honest, knowing just the right psychological buttons to push as he creeps under Bond’s skin. His introduction is a work of art: as he walks towards our tied-up protagonist, Silva spools a monologue terrifying in its simplicity, presented by a physically unarmed man wearing a pristine white suit. The only criticism one can make – and this is ridiculously nitpicky, to be fair – is that he could do with a smidgen more screen-time. Perhaps one final scene between the heart-racing climax of the second act and his appearance in the grand denouement wouldn’t have gone amiss.
But hey, there are enough supporting players to keep things engaging elsewhere. Ralph Fiennes brings gravitas to his role as the stone-faced Mallory, and Ben Whishaw is much more than a cutesy, iPad-age update of Q. Some of the film’s most enjoyable moments stem from seeing the newbie exchange pithy barbs with Craig, but all eyes are on the two figures at the centre of the story: Craig’s Bond and Dench’s M, with the latter given a hefty job to shoulder as the cracks in M’s steely figurehead begin to show. Yes, emotion runs high, and personal agendas and backstories are examined and hinted at, resulting in a remarkably affecting third act.
Visually, Skyfall is stunning, with Roger Deakins’ work not going unnoticed as the action moves from the vibrant lights of Shanghai to the sweeping moors of Scotland. The physical side of things also benefits from this keen visual grace, heightened in both spectacle and stakes. In the film’s terrific opening set-piece, which climaxes atop the Varda Viaduct, you can practically feel the rubble crashing down on all sides, bringing a nasty truth thudding home along with it: Bond is not invincible. Craig bears the tortured soul of a hired hand with striking nuance, betraying the inner turmoil of a man who has never been less than flinty. It’s a very human performance, which is perhaps what makes the film resonate so well, and it’s far from one-dimensional. Rather than getting too bogged down in all that “I’m-too-old-for-this-shit” shit, Craig is also allowed time to enjoy himself, and that he does, leavening Bond’s emotional baggage with just the right amount of wonderfully dry humour.
With Craig apparently having found his element with the character, and with the ingredients all balanced to deliver powerful blows on every front, Skyfall is mesmerising. It’s up there with the year’s biggest entertainers, it has incredibly strong characterisation, it’s technically marvellous… There’s frankly too much to discuss in one review.
But the bottom line is simple. This is one damn cool film. “This is the end”? Anything but, Adele…
As I’m sure you’re all aware by now, Skyfall is a prime example of how to make an actioner which doesn’t forget to balance its thrills with intelligence. With Sam Mendes weaving his magic and Craig on top form, Bond has hit fifty with style. Consider me a fan.